Sunday, March 30, 2014

Making Maple Syrup - Our Second Boil - March 30, 2014

Below is our log for our second week of sap collecting.

March 23 (suppertime collection) - 16 cups. Weather: Cloudy, high +4.7°C, low -6.8°C
March 24 - No collection - never got above zero.  Weather: Sunny, high -4°C, low -16.2°C
March 25 - No collection - barely got above zero.  Weather: Sunny, high +.7°C, low -13.6°C
March 26 - Brought buckets in due to snowstorm coming.  Thawed out and collected what was in the buckets. - never got above zero.  Got 4 1/2 cups.  Weather: Cloudy and windy.  Blizzard started around 11 a.m., high -4.4°C, low -8.3°C
March 27 - Cold, no sap. Weather:  High +0.5°C, low -7.2°C
March 28 - 15 cups.  Weather:  High +6.6°C, low -5.6°C
March 29 - Forgot to record.  Weather:  High +11.4°C, low -0.6°C
March 30 - 52.5 cups.  Weather:  High +0.5°C, low -1.3°C

Total for next boil:  88 cups/5.5 gallons.  

On March 26th we got a huge snowstorm - at least 40cms.  Here are a couple of pics from the day after:

We've discovered that we have made a newbie mistake by drilling tap holes with the wrong sized drill bit.  The size we needed for our old school spiles is a 7/16 bit.  This appears to be an odd size as none of our bit sets contained it.  So we went with one that was close.  But as the old saying goes, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades"....and tapping maple trees. lol  "Close" didn't cut it.  The sap is leaking around the spiles and is running down the trees trunks. :(  Some are worse than others and some seemed to have sealed up a bit.  There's nothing we can do but leave them alone and hope for the best.  We had eight or so more trees to tap, so we ordered a proper tapping bit from Home Hardware and it is supposed to arrive on March 27th.

The new tapping bit arrived on March 27th, along with a syrup hydrometer.  On March 28th Jeff tapped the remaining eight or so trees in our neighbours' yards (yes, he got permission first ;)).  It made a huge difference.  The tapping bit may not look much different than a regular bit, but it made a world of difference in ease of going into the tree.

Once the hole is drilled about 2" into the tree, Jeff sticks a twig into the hole to remove any shavings.  Then he places the spile into the hole and gently taps it in.  If you hit it too hard you can split the wood and that will cause sap leakage down the trunk of the tree and it's not good for the tree.  We learned this the hard way.

We're a week past the first day of spring and he has to wear snowshoes. lol

I bought some bucket lids from a maple syrup supplier.  You can see one of them in the pic below.  However we still have the problem of rain running down the tree trunks, down the spile and into the buckets.  

Our next boil took about 5.5 hours.  Below is the final stage when it is brought into the house and finished on the stove.

When it starts to foam up like this that is a good sign it is just about ready.  The boiling point of water was 213°F today (it must be checked with every boil because it changes due to atmospheric conditions).  The sap becomes syrup when it reaches 7.1°F above the boiling point of water, so we are aiming for a temp of 220.1°F.  That is for the minimum density.  We like our syrup a bit thicker so we are going to aim for 220.6.  Unfortunately my digital thermometer does not read in tenths, only whole numbers, so after 220 it becomes a guessing game. 

Once we feel it has reached the right temperature, we take it off the heat and pour some syrup into a hydrometer cup.  The cup I'm using for the hydrometer is a Bios glass bottle tea infuser I got from Canadian Tire.  It is tall and double-walled glass, so it is the perfect thing for a hydrometer cup.  The hydrometer measures the density of the syrup.  The density is measured in "brix" (or % sugar) and the syrup has to be a minimum of 66.50 brix at room temperature for a cold test, or about 59.6 brix at a temp of 202°F for a hot test, which is about what it cools down to once it is poured into the hydrometer cup.  The red line on the hydrometer is marked for 59 brix at 211°F. Below you can see that the red line on the hydrometer is just above the syrup line, at about 59.7 brix.  Close enough!

Now that the syrup is done, it must be filtered and bottled hot.  I have pre-sterilized the bottle, and the syrup has to be poured in while it is still at a temperature between 180-190°F.  Anything less than 180°F and it could spoil.  Since we only have a small amount of syrup, I'm using a coffee filter here.  In this early season batch of light syrup there is very little sugar sand, called "niter", so the syrup came out crystal clear.

Below, the final product - 250ml.  This was produced from 5.5 gallons of sap.  We lost about another 1/4 cup due to filtering as I had squeezed the filter the first time and introduced sediment back into the bottle so I refiltered it again (making lots of mistakes and learning lessons for next year! lol).  Doing the math, I figured out that our sap only had a 1.22% sugar content in our sap which is not good.  I have read that early in the season the trees can be lower in sugar content and that it gains as the season progresses.  Or, we could have rain water diluting the sap.  I have to order a sap hydrometer so we can check the sugar content of the sap from each tree, and also if it rains we can check the sap to see if it has become diluted with rain water before wasting the time and fuel boiling it.  Anyway, this bottle I believe would be graded as Canada #1 Extra Light.

It took about 5.5 hours for the boil, which isn't very efficient at 1 gallon per hour.  I think we're going to try and insulate the burner next time using cinder blocks for better efficiency.

I realize this is all a bunch of boring information for anyone reading this, but it's my way of documenting for quick reference in the future when we do this again in other years.  It will be neat to compare weather patterns with sap production after a number of years.

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